5 Questions to Ask Customers Considering a Family Farm Business

By | February 22, 2021

According to a March 2020 article by the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, agritourism operations in the U.S. generated more than $700 million in sales in 2012. People are taking their family farms and (alongside farming) making them destinations for people who don’t live on farms to come and enjoy some of their leisure time and spend some of their leisure cash.

Farmers are doing this for several reasons, including generating some additional revenue, exposing people to another way of life (many city people will pay to see what life is like on a farm), and teaching children about modern agriculture and animal husbandry.

I have a friend that has operated a family farm for many years, and they are planning to open their farm to people who want to come and pick some strawberries. This isn’t a new way to generate revenue (and get someone else to do the harvesting), where I grew up, we would take annual trips to go pick grapes at a local vineyard. Think about it. You have a product that you want to get out to the public, and you can invite the public to come pay you for your product and the joy of helping you make your product ready for them. It’s a real win-win-win, especially when Grandma makes her grape pie.

There’s more to it than just a “you-pick” plot of land. Agritourism can include pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hayrides, tours and more. As insurance professionals, we have an opportunity to help local family farms as they venture into this business. One way that we can help them is by asking them some good questions that will help them to think through their risks and potentially help them keep their insurance reasonable, or at least help them to consider whether or not they really want to do this.

Sometimes, people just have a vague idea that they want to try something new. Let’s plant a crop that people will like to pick. Let’s stock the pond out back and let people come fishing. Let’s let people ride horses or milk cows. It’s possible that it’s just an idea for them, but if you can help them to narrow down the idea, they will have a better idea what their idea really means to them.

Here are five questions we can ask a family farmer that is planning on getting into agritourism.

What activities are you planning on?

Let’s take for example a small family farm that has had a couple of family friends ask them if they could hold their weddings at their really cool looking barn. Now they think that they can make some money as an event venue. That lets you start asking them questions that they didn’t think about.

Are they planning only to have the wedding? What about the reception? Will they serve alcohol? Will there be dancing and can that quaint old cool looking barn handle it all? You get the point. Asking about the activities allows the client to think through all of the things that they want to do and more importantly, all of the things that they don’t want to do.

Where will the people be on your property?

Since we’re talking about that family farm that has that perfect little wedding venue spot, we could assume that their customers will only go there, right? Well, that’s another item to think through because you may not be aware of it, but farms are really cool places.

‘Agritourism can include pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hayrides, tours and more. As insurance professionals, we have an opportunity to help local family farms as they venture into this business.’

They are bound to have buildings that they don’t want people in. There is the equipment building next door to the really cute barn where they store the tractors that they use for the real farming. They also have that one tractor that has been torn apart since last spring and they mean to finish fixing the engine but haven’t gotten to it because they are farming and hosting weddings. They don’t want the flower boy in that building.

Don’t forget about the other part of the barn where they store the chairs and other wedding related property. They don’t want people in there, do they? Maybe they want the clients to help with the set up and tear down, but then again, maybe not.

There’s one other issue in the barn. There’s still a hay loft that has hay and there’s a ladder up into it that an investigative person (like a six-year-old and her three cousins) might find and choose to explore. Certainly, the farmers don’t want them up there, right?

That begs the next question.

How are you planning to limit access to the parts of your property that are off limits?

Once they’ve identified the areas that they want to keep people in, it’s important to have a conversation about how they keep people where they want them. That might be as simple as signs and fences or as complicated as posting people in key areas to make sure that the customers are guided into the proper area.

It has to be addressed because identifying an issue without identifying ways to solve the issue is not actually helpful, especially to the client who is looking for ways to help their family improve their situation.

This may not be a simple solution or conversation, but it’s another one meant to get the client thinking about what might happen. The more potential risks that they identify on the front end, the more open their eyes are before they advertise their wedding venue.

Who is going to be there when your customers are on premises?

The farmer might look at you and say, “well, we plan to be there,” and that’s probably the best answer, but is it possible that they might need more than that?

If they choose to do more than provide the venue, they will certainly need more people. They will be hiring guides to help people into the location. They may hire servers and bartenders for the reception. They may hire photographers and videographers. Of course, they may also contract all of that out, but this still doesn’t answer the question, who will be there when the customers are there?

The client needs to be aware that they will need certain staffing, no matter what parts of the wedding they are furnishing. They will need to have someone there that they trust to handle things when something goes wrong (not if). Whether they are there or not, they cannot be everywhere on premises. There need to be people there who are empowered to make sure that the customers have a great time while staying safe and respecting the boundaries of the venue.

They also need to be people who can be around people without losing their temper or making a scene when someone steps out of line. They need to be people who are trained to make a tough situation easier. They need to know the art of calming everyone down when tempers flare and if something goes awry at a wedding, tempers can flare.

Whether the local family farm becomes a premium wedding venue, a hunt club, or a place for kids to learn about farms while they play and explore, these farmers will need help entering the agritourism space and who better to help them than someone who knows good insurance questions to ask?

Wraight is director of Insurance Journal’s Academy of Insurance. Email: pwraight@ijacademy.com.

About Patrick Wraight

Patrick Wraight, CIC, CRM, AU, is director of Insurance Journal's Academy of Insurance. He can be reached at pwraight@ijacademy.com.

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Insurance Journal West February 22, 2021
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